CHICAGO — Four months after the acquittal of Dante Servin, the Chicago detective accused of killing 22 year-old Rekia Boyd, activists, artists, and supporters gathered to honor her memory, and that of 99 other female victims of police violence, Friday at the opening of the "Blood at the Root" art exhibition.
“In thinking about the stories we hear of people dying in police custody, there is a significant lack of stories about black women,” said Rachel Caidor, who co-curated the exhibit which will run through October at Holy Covenant United Methodist Church, 925 W. Diversey Pkwy.
The exhibit features a timeline of police violence dating back to the days of the slave codes, during which private patrols were hired to hunt down absconded slaves, to modern-day police brutality.
"We wanted to lift up the history and the memory of black women who were killed by police in the course of being incarcerated, or while incarcerated, or sexually assaulted or otherwise harmed," Caidor added.
It took four months for Caidor and co-curators Ayanna Banks Harris, Mariame Kaba, Deana Lewis, Andrea Ritchie and Ash Stephens to develop the concept. Collaborating with area artists and using space donated by Holy Covenant United Methodist Church, they pulled together the mini exhibition with volunteer labor and in-kind donations.
Ayanna Banks Harris came to know her co-curators while working with the Chicago Alliance to Free Marissa Alexander, now known as Love & Protect. The group is now focusing their efforts on the case of Illinois mother Paris Knox, a domestic abuse survivor serving a 40-year sentence for killing her boyfriend. Her case is currently on appeal.
Banks and other members of Love & Protect are hosting a letter-writing event next week where people can send notes of love and support to her and other imprisoned women of color.
“Black women are criminalized for defending themselves, and black women and mothers are criminalized when they aren’t able to defend themselves or their children,” says Banks. “These names have gone largely unnoticed and unspoken."
The organizers noted that while names like Trayvon Martin and Emmett Till have become well known across the country, female victims rarely get as much publicity.
"Whenever we encourage people to ‘Say Her Name’ it forces people to realize that there is a forgotten bunch," Banks said.
Also announced at Friday’s opening reception was the launch of Gone But Not Forgotten, a community quilting project headed by artist Rachel Wallis and We Charge Genocide, a collective of young activists fighting back against police brutality.
Starting September, the group will hold various quilting circle events across the city. Described as a “riff on traditional, Americana-style quilts” the names and dates of death of police violence victims will be embroidered on six-point stars resembling that of the Chicago flag. The project is supported by a grant from the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs.
Caidor and Banks are optimistic about the impact of the exhibit, and hope it will move people to act.
“I hope that people learn some things and build community here, and take examples of where people have intervened on state violence against black women and figure out how to do that in their lives right now,” says Caidor. “Whether it’s sending Paris Knox a postcard to let her know she isn’t isolated, or joining groups like We Charge Genocide or other accountability groups.”
The exhibition will be open to the public Monday through Friday from 11 a.m.-4 p.m., and Sundays from 9 a.m.-12 p.m., 5 p.m.-7 p.m.
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